Don’t knock the university oldies | Letters

Eoin Carter and Eric Skidmore respond to Richard Williams’ article about older postgraduates appearing in the Boat Race and on University Challenge

In his article on the Boat Race and University Challenge, Richard Williams describes Darwin College, Cambridge, as somewhere “they don’t teach anyone you would immediately identify on the street as a university student” (River of dreams: Cracknell is a great Boat Race story but should we allow age to eclipse youth?, 9 April).

Leaving aside the many 22- and 23-year-olds studying here who might raise an eyebrow at that suggestion, surely this diversity is something to be celebrated? Speaking as someone whose own study was interrupted by several years’ ill health, I have found Darwin – and the greater breadth of backgrounds and experiences represented here – to be by far the most welcoming and supportive community in the university. I’m sure that the many students here who have taken time out for similar reasons, or to start families, or simply to return to study after working would also agree.

Perhaps the real issue isn’t that the age profile of some student competitors has changed, but that Mr Williams’ idea of what a student should look like has not? While reporting on Oxbridge continues to focus on the antics of a tiny subset of British 18- to 20-year-olds, it’s worth remembering that over 40% of students at Cambridge are living quiet, busy, and comparatively boring lives as postgraduate researchers. No wonder we’re good at quizzes.
Eoin Carter
Darwin College, Cambridge

• I always look forward to reading Richards Williams, but found his article “River of dreams” very disappointing. My riposte, as a 72-year-old undergraduate who last year narrowly missed selection for my institution’s University Challenge team, will be to try even harder this year.
Eric Skidmore

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